Iran women's activist says blocked from protesting at Russia World Cup
BEIRUT, June 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Iranian women's activist said she was stripped of a banner she planned to display at the World Cup in Russia on Wednesday and blocked from a stadium for two hours after an earlier protest drew international headlines.
Maryam Qashqaei Shojaei said she was held for two hours by security officials at the main stadium in Kazan ahead of the match between Spain and Iran, having planned to raise a banner to protest Iran's ban on women attending stadium matches.
"When I was trying to get in with my banner security told me I can't take it in," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Kazan.
"I showed them my approval. They searched me and held me two hours and took the banner."
World football's governing body FIFA and the Russian government could not be immediately reached for comment.
Shojaei made headlines during Iran's first match against Morocco on Friday when she raised a banner in the St. Petersburg stadium with the slogan: "Support Iranian women to attend stadiums #NoBan4Women."
Ahead of the tournament - which is taking place in 11 cities and runs until July 15 - Shojaei launched an online petition urging FIFA President Gianni Infantino to put pressure on Iran to end the ban.
The Islamic Republic has long barred women from attending male soccer matches and other sports fixtures, partly to protect them from hearing fans swear.
Infantino said in May that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had told him there were plans to allow women to attend matches in the country soon.
In April, female football fans donned fake beards and wigs to attend a major game in Tehran's Azadi Stadium.
The Iranian group OpenStadiums, which is campaigning for women to be allowed to attend sports fixtures, said some women were arrested near the stadium in March during the Esteghlal-Persepolis match.
Iran's team captain Masoud Shojaei said on Tuesday that the World Cup was the wrong place to discuss the issue, although he has previously backed lifting the ban, according to media reports in Iran.
Saudi Arabia last year overturned a ban on women watching sporting events, one of a series of reforms in the deeply conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom.
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